The Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) refers to Mr Abel Seetaram’s letter, titled “The sugar union has misrepresented workers’ rights since 1992”, which appeared in the July 19, 2017 edition of Kaieteur News.
It seems that our response to Mr Seetaram’s last letter has upset him to the point that he rambles on, making pointless and hollow statements which are not borne out by reality. It’s unfortunate that Mr Seetaram is degenerating to gutter-style writing.
Mr Seetaram must have known that last Sunday’s (July 16, 2017) rally at Rose Hall was not organised by GAWU in any way, shape or form. Moreover, from the information we have at hand, the rally was well attended by Guyanese from all walks of life and from several villages, near and far.
Seetaram spoke of vehicles being present at the rally. Quite logically, those who are from areas that are some distance from the rally venue would have driven.
Or is Mr Seetaram saying that only a certain ‘class’ of people should own and drive vehicles? If this is indeed so, then it speaks to the contempt and disdain Mr Seetaram and, no doubt, his colleagues who are perched atop the pyramid of power hold for Guyanese.
Seetaram accuses us of financially supporting our “political allies”. This is a worn-out and tired accusation which has failed to gain traction. We recognise this also as a tune being sung by several of Seetaram’s political colleagues in an attempt to besmirch and denigrate our Union.
The GAWU wishes to make it crystal clear to Seetaram and his colleagues that it does not financially support any political organization, and this can be verified by the yearly Auditor General’s Financial Statements of our Union. As a mass-based organization, we are fully aware that our members are supportive of the various political parties in our country, and we are respectful of their views.
Seetaram asks us to list the cases we won, the NIS contribution matters we have represented, the improvements in working conditions we have caused, among other things. The response that he is seeking would probably fill up a voluminous text book, and it would certainly not be carried by any local newspaper.
But to answer him: In a nutshell, our work in defending, safeguarding and advancing workers’ rights and concerns has seen a sustained improvement in working conditions and benefits, and we will never flinch from this responsibility. The sugar workers are very much aware of our Union’s role, and have staunchly supported GAWU, and have resiliently stood with the Union even before its formal recognition with GuySuCo.
It would do Mr Seetaram well if he could solicit from GuySuCo — with whom, no doubt, he has easy access — information on the myriad of benefits that GAWU has won over the years for the sugar workers.
The erstwhile gentleman then accuses our Union of lying to workers. But we ask Mr Seetaram what lies he is referring to. Are we lying on the Government’s plan for the sugar industry when we say 9,000 workers would be sent on the breadline? Or that 50,000 Guyanese stand threatened by impoverishment? Or that several village economies face the real prospect of ruination? Or that there is a high probability that crime and other anti-social behaviours in sugar communities are likely to increase? These are not lies; but real, cold, hard facts.
Mr Seetaram, it seems you have not been reading our responses carefully, or you are just being plain wicked. There were always plans to safeguard the industry, recognising the consequences of the EU price cuts. Those plans involved moving the industry away from being a raw bulk sugar producer to a vertically-integrated, diversified industry producing several products. Maybe you can have your colleagues share with you several of the studies and plans which were done in moving in this direction. It is foolhardy to say that nothing was done when the reality paints a different picture altogether.
The Blairmont packaging plant was the first such plant established by GuySuCo, and was intended to be a model for other plants that would be established. While it is indeed true that the plant produced Demerara Gold sugar, it also exposes Seetaram’s lack of knowledge. The name ‘Demerara’ in terms of sugar refers to “branding,” and not solely location. That brand is being used by several other sugar producing countries. In fact, at this time, GuySuCo is seeking to safeguard the name ‘Demerara’.
Mr Seetaram, you then go on saying that the “East Coast Demerara Estates had to be closed”. This is news for us, and we wonder why this wasn’t shared in the 2015 Election Campaign. Contrary to your assertion, there was a plan to safeguard Enmore/LBI and all estates, and that is a matter of fact. At Enmore/LBI, extensive work was done in converting fields to facilitate mechanisation in an effort to reduce cost of production. In terms of enhancing revenues, the packaging plant was established since GuySuCo receives its highest price from the sale of such direct-consumption sugar. Studies also found that a co-generation plant would have been viable at the estate.
There was no ‘doomsday clock’ for Enmore/LBI, as the author asserted.
Mr Seetaram, your contemptuous letters, filled with baseless and fallacious assertions, are nothing but a weak and futile defence of plans for the sugar industry, which will haunt our nation for generations to come. We ask the Councillor: what happened to the assertion that “sugar is too big to fail” and where is the euphoric ‘Good Life’ that was promised to all Guyanese, including the sugar workers. Or is it the sugar workers are deemed to be another class of people, not deserving of the niceties of life.
GAWU will continue to stand in defence of the sugar workers and their families as they face the wrath of an uncaring Administration.